It would be unwise for the New York Jets to bank on a rookie wide receiver in 2022
Many New York Jets fans have been pushing for the team to select a wide receiver in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft. It’s a talented and diverse group led by stars Garrett Wilson and Drake London.
However, it’s foolish to expect a rookie wide receiver to step up as his team’s #1 target immediately. It takes time for rookies to adjust to their new schemes and the significant improvement in competition.
To demonstrate this, let’s take a look at the wide receiver classes to come out of the last few drafts.
The 2020 and 2021 NFL drafts
A historic number of wide receivers were taken over the last two drafts (2020-21). There were 11 selected in the first round alone and a whopping total of 23 selected within the first two rounds.
For reference, only 28 receivers were taken in the entire 2019 NFL draft, including two in the first round and nine throughout the first two rounds.
Despite the talent and promise, only three of those 23 receivers broke 1,000 yards as a rookie: Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and Jaylen Waddle.
Chase and Jefferson have raised expectations for rookie receivers to an unrealistic level. Most rookies fail to reach their standards.
Excluding Chase’s dominant season, the other four first-round receivers taken in 2021 (Waddle, DeVonta Smith, Rashod Bateman, Kadarius Toney) combined to produce an average of 716.5 yards and 3.0 touchdowns.
Jefferson was the only receiver out of the six taken in 2020’s first round to hit the 1,000-yard mark. The other five players (CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Brandon Aiyuk, Jalen Reagor) combined for an average of 677.4 yards and 3.2 touchdowns.
In year two, the 2020 wide receiver class took a step forward with five receivers breaking the 1,000-yard mark. Jefferson was joined by Lamb, second-round pick Michael Pittman, second-round pick Tee Higgins, and fifth-round pick Darnell Mooney.
However, none of those receivers were taken in the top 15, and three were taken outside of the first round entirely. Not to mention, a total of five 1,000-yard receivers out of a draft that had 35 wide receivers selected (including 13 in the first two rounds) is a low hit rate.
Over two years of historic wide receiver talent in the draft, only three players became their team’s top target as a rookie. Altogether only six or seven are currently considered their team’s top wide receiver or are expected to develop into that role.
While the Jets should definitely seek help at wide receiver in the draft, it’s foolish to expect them to be ready to perform at a high level as rookies.
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The last five NFL drafts
In the last five years, 46 wide receivers were selected in the top two rounds with 18 being taken in the first round.
Outside of the 2021 draft, the best receivers of each class were usually taken outside of the top 20 if they were even a first-round selection.
Here’s a list of the top five wide receivers by total receiving yards from each of the past five drafts (2017-21), along with what pick they were selected with.
- Ja’Marr Chase, 5th Overall, 1,455 Yards
- Jaylen Waddle, 6th Overall, 1,015 Yards
- DeVonta Smith, 10th Overall, 916 Yards
- Amon-Ra St. Brown, 112th Overall, 912 Yards
- Elijah Moore, 34th Overall, 538 Yards
- Justin Jefferson, 22nd Overall, 3,016 yards
- CeeDee Lamb, 17th Overall, 2,037 yards
- Tee Higgins, 33rd Overall, 1,999 yards
- Chase Claypool, 49th Overall, 1,733 yards
- Darnell Mooney, 173rd Overall, 1,686 yards
- D.K. Metcalf, 64th Overall, 3,170 yards
- Terry McLaurin, 76th Overall, 3,090 yards
- A.J. Brown, 51st Overall, 2,995 yards
- Diontae Johnson, 66th Overall, 2,764 yards
- Deebo Samuel, 36th Overall, 2,598 yards
- D.J. Moore, 24th Overall, 4,313 yards
- Calvin Ridley, 26th Overall, 3,342 yards
- Michael Gallup. 81st Overall, 2,902 yards
- Christian Kirk, 47th Overall, 2,902 yards
- Courtland Sutton, 40th Overall, 2,658 yards
- Cooper Kupp, 69th Overall, 5,517 yards
- Chris Godwin, 84th Overall, 4,643 yards
- JuJu Smith-Schuster, 62nd Overall, 3,855 yards
- Mike Williams, 7th Overall, 3,662 yards
- Kenny Golladay, 96th Overall, 3,589 yards
Out of 20 wide receivers, only eight receivers on this list were taken in the first round. Excluding 2021, only four out of 15 wide receivers were a first-round selection and all of them were taken in the second half of round one.
Most notably, between 2017 and 2019, only one receiver broke 1,000 yards as a rookie: A.J. Brown of the Titans.
The 2022 draft features another talented wide receiver class and the Jets should still look to tap into it.
However, the Jets should first look to target a veteran receiver to give quarterback Zach Wilson immediate help.
Only four rookie wide receivers over the past five years broke 1,000 yards despite 46 of them being taken in the first two rounds over that span. If the Jets rely on a rookie to fill out their wide receiver unit, the odds are strong that he will not be the difference-maker they need for Wilson, at least not in year one.
While I expect Moore to break out and Davis to rebound, the Jets need to give Wilson more help. We’ve seen how quickly injuries can devastate the wide receiver room.
With a deep free-agent class (and potentially a strong trade market) at wide receiver, general manager Joe Douglas has the opportunity to give Wilson the tools he needs to succeed.